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Con Report: ConnectiCon 2014


At a good con, there’s always more to see and do than can be accommodated by one person’s schedule. (See future ad: Ink seeks con lackey.) ConnectiCon maintained that tradition this year with a strong panel lineup and some star-studded voice talent. While I’m not usually one to be wooed into panels or press junkets by voice actors or actors in general, there was something undeniably and decadently nostalgic about the combined appearances of Rob Paulsen (Pinky) and Maurice LaMarche (Brain), Richard Horvitz (Zim) and Nikki Simons (GIR), and Alan Oppenheimer (Falcor) and Noah Hathaway (Atreju). This more or less set the theme this year: older media for a younger crowd.


During the past two ConnectiCons, I noticed a good mix of old and young. This year, however, the attendee demographic seemed heavily skewed towards the younger set despite programming that seemed aimed to appeal to those from at least two generations previous. Don’t get me wrong, letting talent slip into obscurity, allowing its effect and humanity to be forgotten by not affording it the opportunity for a physical presence, is a horrible thing and should be countered every possible time. Because, let’s face it, no-one knows how much time is left.

There is a ghost in ConnectiCon’s 2014 guidebook that was once portraiture of flesh and blood. There was an empty Dealer’s Room table, identified but by a simple moniker marker, which overflowed with books just one year previous. Perhaps saddest of all, there was no voice to speak to an audience of a now permanently cancelled “Abuse the Author” panel. Author C. J. Henderson passed away from a protracted battle with cancer just one week before the con. If you were lucky enough to be touched by interacting with the man or his writings, consider buying a book or two in memoriam or helping his family directly. A great deal of Kudos is due ConnectiCon for maintaining that Dealer’s Room table, upon which a couple sharpies were left for fans and friends to write their goodbyes and thanks.

Since the con must go on, and since we’re still in the Dealer’s room, let’s distract our emotions with shiny things and the booths that swaddled them. One large area hosted the Dealer’s Room, Artists’ Colony, and the various featured guests. Things seemed a bit more spread out this year, and maybe that’s why it felt so empty. Traffic was never an issue any of the few times I popped in to look around. While the floor felt relatively sparsely populated with vendors compared to last year, the booth quality seemed far superior. From the visually enthralling simplicity of the wood and cloth Tea & Absinthe storefront to the morbid fun of the gargoyle-guarded Haunted Graveyard to the colorful Jerry’s Artarama table with interactive scribbling pads, the Dealer’s Room was peppered with some pretty interesting booths.

Conversely, Artists’ Colony seemed unfortunately tame—pretty scant in regards to eye-catching appeal. There were, of course, a few exceptions to this, most notably the Full Coverage Writers. They had a typewriter on their table for visitors to contribute a word, a sentence, a paragraph to a collective story. The organization also made some kick-ass word nerd buttons. The alley where guests were hangin’ out and talking to fans evidently didn’t need any accoutrement; the stars themselves were brilliant enough to attract ever-lengthening lines of endeared fans.

The weather was gorgeous all weekend ‘round, which was ideal for cosplayers. They were out in droves representing every fandom imaginable via homespun improvisation, originative imagination, and nigh photographic duplication. I missed them myself, but there was a most excellent Inspector Gadget and a couple Cortanas amongst the pictures posted in the Full Coverage Writers’ photo gallery! (For Ink's ConnectiCon photoset, click here.)

Panels and workshops were on par with last year. My only real regret is not attending the calligraphy workshop due to the chance to record a silly ukulele song. The unexpected highlight was the FAKKU! panels (Visual Novels and Q&A), which explored the humorous and industrious nature behind the depths of depravity, but excellent panels abounded. (Read more about them in the forthcoming panels report.) Tabletop gaming, which is mostly what this con is known for, was in full stride with a packed hall roughly the same size as the Dealer’s/Artists’/Guest area. A few ConnectiCon exclusives, such as Cosplay Karaoke, the ConnectiCrawl, and the ConneciCon Death Match, made the con all the more enjoyable with their original twists on existing programming and attendee practices.

If not the same as last year, the layout was clear and efficient. ConnectiCon, along with the all of the Connecticut Convention Center, spreads throughout the nearby Hartford Marriott and Hartford Hilton. The arrangement allows for a lot of space and air, while little info desks throughout are provided to help people find their way. With regards to the panel floor, the only suggestion I’d have is a sign or two pointing to which side Panels 1-3 and 4-7 were for the idiots, like me, who forget every time they ride the up escalator.

Speaking of which, while I did not have moments available to visit the video gaming rooms (even though I was stoked that this event had a dedicated “Classic Console” room), there was a new addition this year that seemed a good use of space; the landing between the two sets of escalators between the main and panel floors was used for arcade rhythm games. Even though it caused some slight congestion, the entertainment of watching people enjoy themselves made each dual flight trip all the shorter while separating the noise from the rest of the con.

Bringing the noise out of the con and into Hartford proper, attendees filled such regular go-to spots as City Steam and Woody’s. I’d also be remiss not to mention the Saturday evening fireworks. It just so happened that ConnectiCon coincided with Riverfest. While awed by the booms, I was actually in a panel when the riotous explosions began and concluded. Musta been a helluva show, though. After the panel, I very slowly made my way, like a salmon against a current of evacuating Riverfest attendees, to my hotel room.

I may have left a tad early, but, in tuth, I was exhausted from what equated to a three-day party made possible by a con with a great breadth of content as well as a convenient locale and laid-back feel. With any luck, I’ll be paneling there next year—expanding the seemingly growing anime content. This is a con for the ages (literally, all ages) that lets attendees revel in nostalgia while witnessing the present state of fandom. I’d highly recommend picking up a weekend pass for 2015 to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Snapshot: Germany Annexes Japanese Lore (Folktales from Japan)

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Syncretism is a mainstay of Japanese culture. Movies, music, spirituality, and more from other countries are often adapted to complement modern life—the culmination of a long history rife with imagination and ingenuity. But Japan is certainly not alone in doing this. Folktales from cultures in every nook and cranny of the globe have been passed down for generations via oral tradition (and later in written collections). It's only natural that those same stories, upon spreading beyond their local and regional boarders via the likes of intrigued traders and passing travelers, change just as much due to the laws of a game of telephone as to adapt to slightly askew or dissimilar cultural value sets. Folktales from Japan (Furusato Saisei Nippon no Mukashi Banashi) is a series that focuses on folktales from Japan. While watching one such tale (“The Six Warriors”), my jaw dropped when I recognized parallels with a British movie about a certain German nobleman and infamous tall tale teller.

“The Six Warriors” (third tale, episode 114) involves a young warrior who wanders around inviting interesting people he meets en route to travel with him. He meets a man with superhuman strength, a man with superhuman speed, a man with superhuman eyesight, a man with a talent for blowing his nose, and a superb marksman. Separately, these types of characters are quite common in folktales. But the description of the young warrior as “a bit weird,” combined with the introduction of all of those types of characters, rang a bell.[1] Along their travels, this group comes upon a lord’s palace where a challenge is issued. Someone from the group must beat the lord’s daughter, the princess, in a race to a far-off spring, fetch some water, and bring it back. Again, whistles sounded in my head.[2] But when the man with superhuman speed fell asleep under a tree only to be espied by his travelling companion with superhuman sight and awoken by the effects of the superb marksman, I knew this was Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Münchausen.

Trouble is that I didn’t immediately have the historical background with which to discern which came first, “The Six Warriors” or an actual tale about the real-life baron that Gilliam wove in his movie. After all, Münchausen was a real man, a historical figure, who took part in the Russo-Turkish War. My head spun! The spread of his tales eastward or his absorption of tales heard from the west while fighting abroad were both plausible scenarios. A quick trip to Wikipedia town revealed that the first published stories collected about Münchausen (first by an anonymous third party and then translated into English and published by Rudolf Erich Raspe) “are based on folktales that had been in circulation for many centuries before Münchhausen's birth” (italics mine). So it looks like, in fact, one of the tales in Gilliam’s movie stems from a Japanese folktale! The differences[3] revealed by the East to West adaptation are pretty fun to examine; read on for the breakdown. Otherwise, marvel in the discovery of where one scene in a phenomenal British film indirectly gets its inspiration: a tale told to toddlers.

Although snapshots are generally brief affairs, and that "Ah-HA!" moment has already been described, I'd feel remiss if I didn't fully explain why my jaw dropped by examining all the differences between the tales. So please forgive the unusual length of this particular snapshot or just consider it a stitched-together, panoramic one.

[1] Characters

Baron Münchausen (Hieronymus Karl Friedrich Baron von Münchhausen) is ascribed to the role of the unnamed young warrior in the Japanese folktale. Both wield a sword as their primary weapon but seldom do any fighting themselves—commanding their companions’ talents instead.

Albrecht was the name given to the unnamed strong guy in the Japanese folktale. The only obvious change is cosmetic: Albrecht is played by Winston Dennis, a dark-skinned actor (African-English?), whereas the anime character is, most likely, Japanese.

Berthold was the equivalent of Idaten from the Japanese folktale. Both were super fast, but Berthold had the addition of self-applied ball chain shackles he wore when not running in order to slow himself down. (The implications on self restraint and lack thereof can be argued.)




Adolphus is an interesting amalgamation of the man with superhuman eyesight (Senrigan) and the rifleman ("straw hat") from the Japanese folktale.



Gustavus creates massive gusts of wind by blowing through his mouth, while Hanafuki (from the Japanese folktale) blew through his nose. Hey, ya gotta keep the children entertained. Also, Hanafuki gained two HUGE ears as Gustavus for feats of superhuman hearing in the Gilliam flick. I’m guessing this was done to compensate for the aforementioned amalgamation that subtracted an entire member with distinct capability from the cast.

Speaking of, that leaves five warriors on Gilliam’s Münchausen bill. Where’s the sixth? That’s the baron’s trusty steed, Bucephalus (not in the Japanese folktale), who comes at a whistle no matter what obstacles lie between him and Baron Münchausen.

[2] Plot

In The Adventures of Baron von Münchausen, the baron tells the tale of a wager he proposed while in the Sultan's palace. The wager was that the baron could procure, “within the hour,” a wine far superior to the sultan’s favorite directly from Vienna or else the Sultan could have the baron's head as a trophy.

In The Six Warriors, the young warrior and his group travel past a lord’s house. There is a mandatory challenge imposed upon all who pass: win a race or fork over all valuables. The race requires on challenger to beat the princess down to a spring three leagues away, fill a pitcher of water from that spring, and bring it back.

The baron sends for Berthold, who runs there, procures the bottle of wine, and sprints most of the way back but ends up falling asleep under a tree.

The young warrior sends Idaten, who runs there, fills the jug, and runs partly back but falls asleep under a tree after he sees what a huge lead he has on the princess.

Down to the last few minutes, the baron begins to worry and gets his team to use their distinct capabilities to find out what happened. Gustavus presses his large ears to the ground and hears Berthold’s snoring. Adolphus, boosted up on a rampart by Albrecht, espies the slumbering companion and shoots an apple off the branch under which he’s dosing. Awoken, Berthold makes it back in the nick of time.

Senrigan’s up in a tree or on a vine watching the race and alerts his friends to the fact that Idaten’s been overtaken by the princess, who also knocked over Idaten’s jug, while he was asleep. Straw Hat’s ordered to show his stuff. He shoots off the branch of the tree Idaten’s sleeping under and wakes him. Idaten goes back to the spring, refills the jug, and beats out the princess in a photo finish.

The sultan indeed finds the wine superior, and being a man of his word, lets the baron take “all the treasure the strongest man can carry.” Upon hearing that Albrecht hoisted the entire contents of the sultan’s treasury upon his massive back, however, the sultan sends forth an army to deal with the baron’s eclectic group. The troups are quickly defeated due to a few mighty blows by Gustavus and some minor contributions by the rest of the group.

Despite cheating, the lord concedes that Idaten won and allows the young warrior’s group to take all the treasure the strongest man can carry. Upon noticing the strong man in the group had lifted the all of the treasury, the lord orders his troops to attack the group of eclectics. The army, the sultan, and the princess are quickly defeated by a couple hefty blows from Hanafuki.

Later in the movie, upon catching up with Albrecht, it’s revealed that he alone kept the treasure and ended up giving it all away to charity.

After bankrupting the court, the young warrior’s team hands over the riches to the village that had suffered under the greedy lord.

[3] Themes

The challenge highlighted in The Adventures of Baron von Münchausen is one of man vs. time, which is a prevailing theme of the movie. (The baron’s constantly facing his own death.) When invigorated by such adventure, the baron takes on a visibly youthful appearance, and the tone of the action as well as the baron’s actions are those rooted in arrogance and selfishness. Neither of these are ever painted in a bad light.

The mandated challenge in the folktale is man vs. man—a representation of a prevailing moral of most of the tales in Folktales from Japan: the oppressive nature of the greedy vs. the selflessness of the just. Not only is the lord a deceiver by having a hidden ace up his sleeve (the princess is, like Idaten, endowed with superhuman speed), but his child also cheats during the contest. Deplorable actions meet a compounded just end: the rich lord loses all his wealth and is then for all intents and purposes banished from his land.

Whereas the Japanese folktale is about using everyone's special ability as a team to overcome the oppressive greed of the local lord in order to help his poor villagers, the movie is about the baron using the skills of each of his “servants” to acquire bragging rights and just for the general thrill of popping an inflated ego (be it general disbelief or classic narcissism). It should be noted that the sultan is portrayed as casually enjoying the suffering of his people, while the folktale casually implies the young warrior can’t resist besting someone at a challenge.

Both of the main protagonists are depicted as wandering adventurers. While the Japanese folk tale defines its protagonist, politely and reverently, not by name but as a ronin on "a journey to win fame and glory," Münchausen is depicted more or less as a fool—a child, a leaf amidst the winds of fantastic circumstances—whose fame is not so much sought but stumbled upon. This is a contrast of sense of duty towards self and others and the selfishness of Romanticism. Echoes of this contrast can be seen in all the above mentioned instances and descriptions.

The beauty of this bit of syncretism is that the not so opposite sides of the same coin (tale) complement each other so perfectly it's almost a divine balance.

Snapshots is a monthly column in which one of our writers reflects upon a particular moment from an anime, manga, or video game. New entries are posted on or around the 15th of each month. To read previous entries, click here.

Review: Kantai Collection (KanColle)

Like Touhou with ships

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kc01I’ve had enough people ask me what the deal is with Kantai Collection that I realize there aren’t many sources that spell it out in plain English. Those that are familiar with "KanColle," for short, are either too busy playing or speak too much jargon for outsiders to understand. I started playing to find out what the fuss is about and, well, here I am nearly half a year later with more hours logged than I care to admit. Reviewing a browser game is a fool’s errand, so this is more of an explanation of what exactly KanColle is for the curious and baffled.

At its heart, the game is an unfeeling excursion into the cruelty of mathematics.

Kantai Collection is a game, centered around resource management, where players assume the role of captain of a fleet of anthropomorphic ships based on real vessels from World War II. There’s not much of a plot to go by, just the simple premise of protecting the homeland from a mysterious invader. Everyone knows the principal gimmick, the warships-as-cute-girls twist that makes westerners go “Oh, Japan," but at its heart, the game is an unfeeling excursion into the cruelty of mathematics. Mechanically, KanColle evokes a lot of what makes a game like Pokémon tick: that dynamic of collecting, raising, and battling while delegating close to all options to chance. The system of random number generators that KanColle is built on is so reliably unpredictable that it has produced a cult of players that worship a deity referred to as the RNG goddess. Even right this second, there’s someone, somewhere, cursing the name.

In economics, the term ‘barriers to entry’ refers to difficulties involved in trying to enter a market. In this regard, registering an account to play KanColle is perhaps easier than trying to find a job that pays above minimum wage in the United States, but it still stops most anyone cold in their tracks early on. The registration process involves tooling around with your computer’s region settings and clock on top of setting up a VPN in order to trick the site that hosts the game into thinking you’re connecting from inside Japan. After that, registrants sign up for a lottery, usually held between 4 to 8 AM Eastern Time, to join an open KanColle server. If you aren’t there for the lottery the moment the page opens up, you’ve missed the window completely. Oh yeah, it’s all in Japanese too … as you might have guessed.

While signups are wholly foreigner-unfriendly, there is a very useful wiki that will hold your hand through all this, and the world opens up once you’re actually on a KanColle server. Flipping between the game and your wiki bookmarks might make your head spin, but KanColle is a game of routines that even I can manage to follow with my limited Japanese. A typical session involves running a few daily quests for easy resource gains and managing the equipment and line-up of your fleet before sortieing for actual combat. The amount of control you have over the game seems negligible at best, but there is something compelling about seeing all these random systems work in your favor.

kc03Like most browser games, KanColle is a potent time-suck that walks a fine line between fun and work. The initial rate of rewards and progress may keep you hooked beyond the first couple of days, but then it starts to plateau. Resources earned in a week go up in smoke to gamble on a rare ship build. Certain maps ask you to run unfavorable fleet compositions. An unlucky critical hit sends your flagship to the repair dock for a few hours. Once tangible progress dries up to a drip-feed, that’s when the frustration sets in.

KanColleintentionally fosters all of these feelings of love and pride in players for their ships while presenting an inescapable threat of permanent death.

Managing the in-game resources is enough of a task, but the most valuable resource will be your own time to commit to this game. I won’t talk around it: your mileage will depend entirely on how attached you get to your ships. Similar to a game like Fire Emblem, KanColle intentionally fosters all of these feelings of love and pride in players for their ships while presenting an inescapable threat of permanent death. Inattentive commanders, beware: once a ship sinks in battle, there is no bringing them back. Every ship has their own personality and fully voiced dialogue, which makes it that much worse when the ship doesn’t blame you for your mistake as they’re swallowed by the sea.

kc02After peeling back all the layers, ‘love’ is the crux that keeps people coming back for one more level, one more quest, one more ship construction. Sure, this sort of love skews towards Weird Japan vibes, but by the time the marriage quest opens up in the game, odds are there’s one special ship in your fleet that’s caught your eye. Whether it's Kongou’s haughty broken English, Ryuujou’s charming Kansai-ben, or Yukikaze’s ridiculous luck stat, every ship seems to have something uniquely endearing about them.  Or perhaps you’re a lecherous fetishist with a questionable fixation for school swimsuits. In which case, you’re definitely covered in at least six different ways. You don’t even have to stop at one ship, you can marry however many ships you want provided you can afford the extra rings and marriage papers from the in-game shop. The game won’t twist your arm to buy things, though a few items are worth buying to make your life easier.

Like the vast majority of browser games, a lot of the enjoyment is simply a product of a voice in your head testing your limits. I can’t recommend anyone to walk into this without a serious interest beforehand, but don’t feel like you’re setting sail for unknown territories all by yourself. My corner of the fandom was very understanding of me as I bungled my way to become a respectable, if not entirely clever, captain. As of this writing, I’ve gotten halfway through the penultimate world map and am 18 levels away from marriage, but I most likely would not have gotten this far if the community behind the game hadn’t developed as quickly as it did. The tools to figure out this KanColle thing are there, and if you think you're up to it, your fleet awaits, would-be admirals.

Review: Chihayafuru

the torifuda, the yomifuda, and nothing but my waifu, Oe.

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I've analyzed Chihayafuru, I've drunkenly squeed over Oe's role in Season One, I've dissected the themes present in the second season, I've written about the series for Otaku USA, I've podcasted about the show's awesomeness, and I've even deemed Season 2 one of the best titles of 2013 (mostly to coincide thematically with my other choices), yet the Ani-Gamers 10 Year Anniversary Giveaway winner still wants more?! … from me?! … “rife with Oe and poetry” no less. Well, that's flattering, and I'll take the challenge. Because in a title that's as culturally endowed and dripping with drama as Chihayafuru, there's always something more to say.

Anything involving poetry is a tough sell nowadays. In order to fully appreciate it, poetry requires a pause—time for reflection and introspection and in some cases some Googling—that modern readers do not want to or cannot seem to factor into their hectic schedules. This is especially true for Japanese tanka, where language rife with oral and written puns as well as historical references to people and places which weigh heavily on the poem’s deeper meaning(s) are densely and cryptically packed into a mere thirty-one syllables. If only there was a deliciously dramatic, tension-filled, highly addictive, fast-paced, competition-oriented, visually enthralling, and lusciously animated program that could be consumed in segments of less than thirty minutes per sitting while letting the universal meanings of at least some of the poems of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu slip into viewers’ minds with nigh subconscious effortlessness. Oh, wait … that's Chihayafuru.

No-one knows just how hard a sell classic poetry can be better than Chihaya Ayase, who wants nothing more than to start a competitive karuta club at Mizusawa High School. She plasters posters all over bulletin boards and pleads with classmates to join, but no-one even considers the notion. This is partly because she’s viewed by her classmates as the personification of beauty in vain: the uncouth, ditzy, younger sister of a model (Chitose), whose shadow has historically been Chihaya’s sun. In truth, Chihaya just has tunnel vision; she wants to rank up and go to the national championships so she can play her friends, Arata Wataya and Taichi Mashima, who ignited her passion for playing competitive karuta as a team during their early childhood. The three friends went their separate ways shortly after Arata’s grandfather took ill and Taichi got accepted to a prestigious middle school further away. Before they split up, however, Chihaya made everyone vow to come together and play karuta once more one day. So establishing this club could be her only chance to rekindle those connections and the fond feelings that come with them.

Teetering between tears and nitroglycerine is tricky task to pull off convincingly (let alone routinely), but Chihayafuru makes child’s play of doing so … literally. The show centers around a game, a disciplined, competitive “sport” (to the effect that it requires sustained perceptional acuity and intense concentration as well as physical training and stamina) that itself centers on poems of love, longing, introspection, and sadness. Honestly, competitive karuta (uta-garuta, if you will) is, by its very concept, the perfect vessel for the mixing of feels and fuck-yeahs—the perfect formula for a sports anime. But it’s not like the series hits you over the head with poetry right off; it gradually flicks you on the brow by establishing interpersonal drama and setting the emotional stage. After all, for poems to any affect, their readers/listeners/viewers must be able to connect with the meaning on some level.

This comes via an elongated flashback early on which sets the stage for the revelation of temperaments of the core cast. Chihaya realizes her life goal through Arata’s passion for competitive karuta. Arata finds his initial and only friends through competitive karuta. Taichi gets jealous over Chihaya’s friendship being diluted to include Arata but wins the affection of both by playing with them as a competitive karuta team. All of this speaks volumes about just how much the series intertwines personal drama and competitive card play as a plot point/vehicle. On top of all that … there are the actual poems in the game and all they represent.

Whether it’s for character introduction, situational revelation, or personal identification, the poems studied, read aloud, and cited throughout the series bear some serious weight … like poems should. Even if you have no memory for Japanese historical figures and tales, the placement of specific poems throughout the episodes is designed to take advantage of the more universal, or general, meaning of each poem (which is usually very obvious) to parallel a situation in which the characters are currently involved. Poems that are not so obvious occasionally get an explanation by Mizusawa’s resident expert, Kanada Oe, or other characters in the know. The composition of the visuals in Chihayafuru is so adept at implication, however, that explanation is seldom required. The best example of a classic poem’s essence being perfectly illustrated in a modern context comes when Sumire Hanano reflects on

When I must hide
these burning feelings,
I feel as though
my body is on fire
with Ibuki mugwort.

The scene that plays out before her contemplation, combined with the brief collection of reflective moments thereafter, nails home exactly what’s going through her head without ever uttering so much as one superfluous syllable.

The vehicle from which all the literal poetry springs in Chihayafuru is competitive karuta, which certainly gets its own fair share of visual drama—poetry in motion, as it were. But to appreciate how the tension is built, one must know the basic mechanic of the game: be first to touch the card (torifuda)—displayed face up between two opponents—with the last two lines of the poem that corresponds to the first three lines on the card (yomifuda) from which the designated reader is reciting. Sounds simple, right? Swipe the card that finishes the poem you recognize before your opponent recognizes it. Problem is that these poems are set. They don’t change from match to match, let alone year to year, and have been memorized by every single player. Everyone in the professional circuit knows them by heart. This means players often only have a fraction of a second—the chance to discern a vowel or consonant, the very breath that carries them, or even the way the inhale sounds in preparation thereto—before lunging for their card of choice.

Only with the likes of Kaiji and Akagi has Madhouse’s animation efforts been more effective in turning near motionless matches into consecutive nail biters, but neither match the sheer grace portrayed in Chihayafuru. Even though there’s plenty of card striking to animate, the real beauty lies in how the angles, zooms, and pans complement competitors’ strategic contemplations. Looking up through a transparent floor while seeing the players looking down at the opaque cards spread before them, conceptualizations of strategies reminiscent of meditative moments of clarity, and teasingly extended holds build tension with expert precision, and the gameplay is rendered equally astoundingly. It’s impossible to think of slapping a card on a mat as exciting, but the level of detail ascribed to hand placement, the physical reactions of the cards, and the sheer ferociousness of an offensive swipe puts the viewer right on the mat in every single match, every single time, throughout both seasons … and it never gets tiring.

The enthrallment to each episode is owed in large part to the balance struck between personal and competitive drama, both of which draw upon the fallibility of every character in the cast. No-one in the series is without flaw, and no win is guaranteed. Characters hurt others—intentionally, unintentionally, physically, mentally, emotionally—and get hurt, but they also learn and, more importantly, use those lessons later on to become better people and players.

The Chihayafuru anime is based on Yuki Suetsugu’s josei manga of the same name. Two volumes are available in bilingual editions from Kodansha, and Ani-Gamers Editor-in-Chief Evan Minto swears he’ll write a review of at least one of the volumes some day. You can watch both seasons of Chihayafuru on Crunchyroll, but sadly the series is not yet available for purchase in the U.S. If you have a multi-region DVD player, however, Siren Visual carries the complete Season 1 box set and has licensed Season 2 as well. If you want a series with brains, beauty, heart, and excitement, this is it, and none of those diminish with subsequent viewings. Watch the first 5 minutes, and you’ll be cheering for 50 episodes.


Drunken Otaku: Drinking is Bravo! (Girls Bravo)

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Even if they’re fun to laugh at, I’ll be the first to rail against the erroneous clichés pertaining to the effects of drunkenness as portrayed in and perpetuated by media. For instance: no amount of drink will make a person talk to a desk-mounted, suspended mask and think it’s a human being. Nor will being in such a state cause anyone to confuse the identities of people he or she knows; recently introduced strangers, however, are a different story (and maybe even then more of a light novel). Also, no cocktail, even if it’s not a cocktail and just straight up alcohol, will result in instantaneous cloning via involuntary spasmodic action (as with a sneeze or hiccup). Though, to cede the point, hiccups can be real. Thankfully, the effects we’ll be looking at in this particular great moment in drinking are not wrought by a human but a Seirenian … a Seirenese … a misplaced person. So anything goes.

Miharu is from the planet Seiren and makes a trip to Earth via bathtub portal. (Yuuuuuuup.) After magically traversing a dimensional barrier, Miharu ends up trapped with a blue-haired milquetoast boy who has an allergy to girls. Well that trip was certainly worth the effort! Small wonder Miharu seeks enjoyment at the bottom of a bottle beaker.

See, Miharu isn’t the brightest bulb in the box. She more akin to the bulb with the broken filament that comes in the pack of eight you can’t be arsed to return for the inconvenience of it all. Her end-of-bathtub-experience and host here on Earth, Yukinari, drags her along to his school to save his parents’ pantry from being ravaged and give Miharu something to do. What does Miharu do? Miharu drinks!

Things are all set up for an experiment in science class, but the teacher’s late. Returning to her ADD state after Yukinari stops talking to her for a few seconds, Miharu wanders over to some funny smelling pink liquid in a beaker and mumbles to herself something akin to Dee Dee’s maniacal “What does this button do?” and takes a sip. It’s delicious! She takes another sip, notices she feels pleasantly funny … and then chugs the rest of the alcohol which was intended for the class experiment.

Ultimately becoming the class experiment, Miharu blushes, becomes dizzy and hot, and then passes out. For her, the world’s spinning in circles, but she’s feelin’ REALLY good when she comes to … until the sneezing starts and glass starts to shatter. Evidently, according to anime, aliens cause sneezesplosions when they drink! But things don’t stop there. As the drunk settles in, Miharu sneezes more and more until, with one final sneezeplosion, she replicates herself into a swarm of clones that explode when touched by any human. I’ll spare you the “She’s da bomb” joke.

So what do we learn from this great moment in drinking? For one, aliens are bravo because inebriation turns them simultaneously clingy and volatile—like camouflaged magnetic boob mines. And two, the only way to abate the drunken threat posed by the popping of myriad airheads is to dress a lecherous pervert with an inexhaustible libido in a banana costume and let him loose to wear away the sheath, along with his pride, by sheer, unabashed friction.